It is fashionable to make fun of the hundreds of thousands of silly videos being posted into YouTube every month. But thanks to enterprising YouTubers out there, a number of great moments in East European history are now available in video. Here are my two favorites:
- On the afternoon of November 9, 1989, East German press spokesman Günter Schabowski announced some changes in travel rules governing the passage from East Berlin to West Berlin. When asked by a spokesman how soon these new rules would take effect, Schabowski, who had only been passed the decree during the conference and hadn’t read it carefully, shrugged and said, “now.” Various news organizations, including East German television news ran with the story, claiming that the borders had opened, and before long hundreds of thousands of Berliners, East and West, were massing at the checkpoints in the Berlin Wall. The guards did the only logical thing at that moment and opened the gates. Before the night was over, the Berlin Wall was history.
- On December 21, 1989, Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceaucescu gathered the people of Bucharest in the main square of the city and began harranguing them about the need to continue to build socialism in Romania despite the collapse of Communist governments to the north. Less than two minutes into the speech, the crowd begins to heckle Ceaucescu–something that had not happened to him in his entire career–and anyone watching that broadcast had to know that the jig was up for his regime. Certainly he knew it, because shortly after the speech dissolved into him and his wife shouting at the crowd to be quiet and listen, the Ceaucescu’s fled the presidential offices in a helicopter–a helicopter with a broken fuel line that forced them to land earlier than planned and led to their easy capture by the newly installed (and highly questionable) government.
I hope that soon some other YouTuber will post up video of other great moments from 1989–Vaclav Havel and Alexander Dubcek waving to the hundreds of thousands of cheering Czechs and Slovaks on Wenceslaus Square, or the spokesperson for the Polish Communist Party announcing that the Party accepted their defeat in the first round of free elections on June 4, 1989.
And so, it turns out that YouTube is turning into quite the teaching resource.
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